A Homeboy’s Notes On Poetry: If Not Us, Who? If Not Now, When?

10710539_10205047168757672_2936448856352187117_nYoung ones (or the young ones trying to move forward),

This pain you feel? (upon the loss of the right of black people to peacefully assemble, the Ferguson police department following the COINTELPRO playbook to the letter, children getting shot at with rubber bullets at night and having Don Lemon calling them thugs in the morning, and the realization that black people are going to have to deal with these kind of police/stand your ground shootings turned lynching bees for the rest of our days?) Respect it. It’s real. It means that you are alive.  Take care of yourselves.  Be good to your loved ones and family. Heal. Then when you are ready, take it to the library.

You knew this wasn’t going to be easy. You knew that we were going to struggle to the day we die. You just didn’t know the scale and level. And that’s ok. But we have to work now. We have to-through our art-give our people the same tools to make it in the world that are eldest ancestors had; and to do that we have to work harder than we’ve ever done. All of us. Myself included.

Our masters were not perfect, but in their better angels, they understood that their work was in service to something greater than themselves, that their particular abilities to make people see helped people survive. It is why poetry columns and sections had such prevalent spaces in black newspapers, and why poetics were discussed as much as music, sports, and politics. Throughout our history, black audiences (and conscious ally readers) knew that their achievements stood out in the natural word, were changing the language, and were integral in making their today a little better than yesterday.

If you are going to do this, poet, you cannot act like your community doesn’t deserve what our ancestors had right now. You cannot act like our people aren’t in enough pain to deserve a similar effort. You cannot conduct yourself like a people who are going up against a series of laws and statutes to give them second class schools, housing, and facilities don’t deserve your full commitment to our art. You cannot pretend that a people who have had sicked on them stand your ground, stop and frisk, and these brutal lynching bees, don’t need your love this very moment.

Do you think I’m telling you to work twice as hard as the man out of respectability politics? I know there’s racists in the poetry community. I don’t give a fuck about changing their minds or pleading my humanity to them. My job as a poet is to convey the world as I see it, to master my language enough to convey it in words that ring true, and to understand my world it in the context of the broader world around me. My job is not to make every white person on the planet feel comfortable just ’cause. I will always be open. I will always take in different friends and people/communities and be open to new experiences. I will always be willing to meet someone who doesn’t know but is willing to come half way. I WILL NEVER water my own humanity down because someone is too stupid/unwilling to get it. They can burn their own poetry house down, and while I feel for the good people who have to witness their fires, I will rhetorically kick them in the teeth if they bring them to me.

What I will not let burn down without a fight, however is my little spot of land and the history of my people. We are scrappers who made a way out of no way to be here, who punched above our weight to survive and keep surviving, withstanding the pernicious, unspoken racism of the pacific northwest and the death, destruction and violence of the crack era.

And we are in more pain than I have ever seen in my lifetime. And personally, I will do everything I can to give them (and the conscious ally reader) as much beauty, humanity and craft as I have in my body, and heaven have mercy on any one who gets in my way.

Do you want to do this, poet? Do you want to do this right? Do you want to leave more than you have taken in this world? Then take care of yourself. Be good to one another. Do what you need to do to survive. Share another ones load if you can (and goddammit, brothers, do not dump your load on your sister, mother or loved ones). And after we do that, then let’s get our asses in our bookstore’s and branches and work like we’ve never done before. Let’s go, brothers and sisters. Let’s go.

 

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About Robert Lashley.

Like his hero James Baldwin, Robert Lashley wants to be an Honest man and a good writer. His full length book, "The Homeboy Songs", will be published by Small Doggies Press in April. View all posts by Robert Lashley.

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